IT used to be difficult not to feel a little sorry for Halle Berry. Yes, she is famous, has won an Oscar and enjoys all the trappings that go with Hollywood stardom. And yet… It seemed that whenever she was obliged to submit to interviews to promote a new film she was forced to dodge questions about the latest disaster in her private life. There was her diabetes, the breakup of a marriage, the split from the latest boyfriend, a mugging, tangles with the law over hit-and-run driving – always something new and unpleasant to be interrogated about.
Now, however, things are different. Her life is on the up and it is a genuinely happy, smiling Halle, 44, who sits in an office in West Hollywood eager to talk for the first time about her new boyfriend and her role as a mum to daughter Nahla, two. “I’ve wanted this for so long and I feel happier than ever before,” she says. “I’m happy and fulfilled and I’m in a really good space in my life. I’ve survived many highs and many lows and I think I have it all in perspective now – never get too high and never get too low.” Nahla’s father is Canadian male model Gabriel Aubry, with whom Halle had a four-year relationship, which ended in April. Gabriel, 10 years her junior, still sees his daughter regularly. “We’re Nahla’s parents and we both just want what is best for her,” says Halle. “Children shift your priorities and now I have a greater purpose for being here. I love making movies but I would give it all up to be with my daughter if I had to because she’s the love of my life. She’s made me a better person because everything I do and say, everything I want and don’t want, I think first: Will this be best for her? “When you have children you get to see things all over again. So I’ve never laughed as hard, I’ve never done more silly things, and I go to great lengths to make her laugh. She’s awakened a childlike side of me. “Every choice I make now, and that includes who I choose to spend personal time with as a partner, is not just about me any more, it’s about what’s best for her.” At the moment her personal time is being spent with the 44-year-old French actor Olivier Martinez, once Kyle Minogue’s lover, who she met in August when they co-starred in the not-yet released thriller Dark Tide.
REALISTIC “I am just a girl who met a boy; a girl who liked a boy; a boy liked the girl and then that’s what happened,” she laughs. A survivor of a string of unhappy relationships, she is realistic enough to know that like her previous love affairs, this one may not last. “I always stay hopeful. Life is about ups and downs and learning pains and growing and happiness and sadness and that’s all part of it. “The good thing is I don’t feel I’ve become jaded. I still want to be in love. I still love it when I see people who have been married 20 years and I think, ‘Wow, it is possible.’” Then she adds candidly: “But you know, I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that 20 years of marriage may not be for me but it doesn’t mean I can’t have great relationships and be happy and enjoy people while they’re in my life, that’s how I look at it.” Wearing a grey, body-hugging Dolce & Gabbana dress with black Gucci shoes, and her hair cropped short, the actress appears far younger than her years.
But her good looks are in spite of having had to take a tougher route to the top than her peers. “Not many good parts are written for black women at all and that’s been a struggle my entire career,” she says, without rancour. “I’ve finally realised I’m going to have to start making things happen for myself if that’s what I want to do.” With that in mind, she set about bringing what she calls her “passion project” to the screen. She bought the rights to the story of a woman struggling with a multiple personality disorder who is torn between who she is and a racist alter ego that preys on her mind and takes over her emotions. Halle has spent 10 years creating a script and trying to raise money for the project. The result is Frankie and Alice, a 1970s-set psychological drama which allows her to give full rein to her acting talents. “Bringing this story to the screen has been a very satisfying experience,” she says. “It’s a great responsibility when you portray another person and not having this affliction myself it was really hard to understand what it must be like, but I watched hours and hours of tape of real patients and I read four or five books on the subject and tried to understand how and why it happens.” Halle is the daughter of a blonde, blue-eyed English psychiatric nurse from Liverpool and a black American serviceman. She grew up in Cleveland, USA, amid racial prejudice, and recalls being called a zebra, an Oreo cookie, a half-caste and even, n*****. “Being half black and half white I understand how racism rears its ugly head on both sides,” she says. “My mother’s family disowned her when she married my father and his family disowned him when he married my mother, so I understand how both sides have their issues.” Her father left home when she was four years old and she and her older sister were raised by her mother. “She was a single mom and she didn’t have any money. I jokingly tell her she got it all wrong and she hits me with, ‘Well, you seem to have turned out ok, so how wrong did I get it?’ So then I just shut up.”
There was a time when Halle had little to laugh about. A teenage beauty queen, she was diagnosed as diabetic when she was 19 and was taking insulin until a decade ago when, by changing her diet and exercise programme, she weaned herself off the drug. She survived an unhappy marriage to baseball player David Justice, after which she says she contemplated suicide, and a series of disastrous relationships – one former boyfriend sued her for £50,000 and another hit her so hard she became partially deaf. She was attacked and mugged in an underground parking garage in 1995 and in 2000 she was fined and sentenced to community service for a hit-and-run accident after running a red light. Halle said she had no memory of being in an accident, and her doctors said she had sustained a head injury. A subsequent civil case against her was settled out of court. Her second marriage, to musician Eric Benet, ended in 2003 after two years because he could not control his roving eye. Only days after winning her Oscar for Monster’s Ball, she discovered her husband was a sex addict and he entered rehab for treatment. “After that great high of winning the Oscar I hit one of the greatest lows I’ve ever experienced,” she says. “I plummeted right back into the depths of the valley.” To add to her litany of woes, while filming the horror movie Gothika she suffered a broken arm while grappling with Robert Downey Jr. during an intense scene. Like her private life, Halle’s career has been a series of highs and lows, from winning the Oscar and the commercial success of the three X-Men movies to the disastrous Catwoman. Now she’s firmly on the Hollywood A-list but takes nothing for granted. “This career has a lifespan and it could be over soon or I could work until I’m 90. I’m prepared to accept the realities of what happens when women age in this business. “That’s the reality of it and there’s nothing I can do to change it.”